Counterview: Ahmedabad: Saturday, April 19, 2014.
The Agariya Heet Rakshak Manch (AHRM), which works among poor saltpan workers in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), has represented to the World Bank against recent eviction notices served on them by the Gujarat government officialdom. Sent to the Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihood Improvement Project (BCRLIP) head of the World Bank, Anupam Joshi, who sits in the bank’s New Delhi office, the AHRM letter says, the “drastic step of eviction warning without community consultation will lead to serious impact on the well being and livelihood of large population from 150 villages on the periphery of the LRK”.
The agariyas are an important beneficiary of the World Bank-funded India biodiversity project, currently being implemented in the LRK. The main task of the project is to fulfill a “growing realization that the only way to address security of biodiversity is through large spatial scale of landscapes around protected areas (PAs) and addressing biodiversity conservation through the principles of landscape ecology that considers people and their activities as the cornerstone of landscape conservation”, a World Bank document says.
Suggesting that eviction cannot help resolve biodiversity issues, the World Bank, while preparing the project report, had insisted, “It has been realized that in countries like India where a large number of people continue to depend on forest resources for their subsistence and livelihoods, one of the keys to successful conservation lies in involving local communities in natural resource management. Among the many requirements of sustained involvement are development of economic, institutional and policy incentives in the form of sustainable livelihoods, tenurial security and capacity development.”
Asking the World Bank to keep this main project direction in mind, the letter, signed by AHRM director Harinesh Pandya has sought the bank’s “urgent attention” to the “eviction notices given to agariyas in LRK.” Calling it a “sudden development in context of agariyas’ livelihood in LRK”, Pandya reminds Joshi that “agariyas belong to denotified and nomadic tribes and salt farming is their traditional source of livelihood”. They “migrate to LRK for making salt during September and return in April, once salt is harvested.”
The letter says, “During migration period, they reside in small make-shift shelter. The areas where communities make salt is around 2.3 per cent of the LRK. Around 8,000 to 10,000 families are into salt farming in the LRK. Salt farming in the LRK is carried out fully by traditional method and with human labour. Crystal salt made by community is organic and has been identity to these denotified and nomadic tribes.”
Suggesting that they are in no way a threat to the wild ass, a rare species currently found only in the LRK, the letter claims, “Agariyas and wildlife show great co-existence here in the LRK. It is one of most successful example of community conservation of wild life, with no conflict. In the last 30 years, there are no cases of human-wildlife conflict in the LRK. Eventually wild ass population has increased from mere 700 to 5000.”
“We also need to take note that salt farming in the LRK has history of 600 years. However, government did not survey this piece of land. There no documentary records and thus land was given single survey no zero. The government has not been clear about its jurisdiction, and recently the whole area was put under the Kutch district collectorate”, the letter says.
Pointing out that the community has made representation to the state tribal department for recognizing their customary community user rights (CCUR) under the forest rights Act in the Wild Ass Sanctuary and this representation is pending for consideration, the letter says, the recent eviction notices to agariays in the LRK seeks “documentary evidences” of their customary right to produce salt, “or else they have to face imprisonment.”
The notices have been served during the “salt harvesting time for the communities” and “eviction notices at this point of time will lead huge economic loss to the agariyas, and will lead to conflict”, the letter says, warning the World Bank, this will only “harm the BCLRIP Programme. Instead there should be dialogue with the communities at workplace, to share the details of programmes like that of BCLRIP.”
Offering help, Pandya has said, AHRM will “be more than happy to facilitate/associate such process of conducting dialogue with community giving them correct information about BCLRIP which will not only help in removing fear in the minds of community but will lead increase in mutual trust between community and the forest department. On behalf of communities we are bringing this to the notice of the World Bank, for your prompt action and request you to intervene appropriately to avoid any further conflicts.”